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For many people, Christmas is a time to share the warmth of friendship and family with parties, gifts and unforgettable memories, but for others who live on the streets, the holidays are just about one more night to survive.

Wendy Vollmer was forced out of a camp she has called home since August in the woods west of McClain Bank on State Highway 9 and Interstate 35.

“This is the first time that I have been homeless,” Vollmer said Wednesday from a new wooded camp in town.

As reported by The Transcript, the property was cleaned up on Tuesday after owner Mark Moore sought help from the town’s homeless resource agencies and the Norman Police Department.

City spokeswoman Tiffany Vrska said “more than a dozen campers” had visited the area and case management had been offered to all. Near a bridge, homeless people camped out on surrounding land controlled by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the agency confirmed in September.

Statements from police and city officials indicated that nearby fires and theft of property prompted the owner to post a trespass notice on the property for fear of legal liability. While these complaints have been ongoing since at least 2020, The Transcript has learned that the property was in litigation from 2015 until recently.

NDP spokeswoman Sarah Jensen said the property had been in dispute for several years. District court records show that a civil dispute over an unpaid promissory note between RWM LP and Anthem involved 25 plots of land, including the area where the encampment existed.

The settlement’s clearance comes as people with housing vouchers are on a three to six-month waiting list for emergency housing, said Brandi Studley, a member of Ward 1’s city council. housing provide potential tenants with an upfront fee to rent housing, but the city’s contractor, Homebase Inc., has found landlords are reluctant to accept them.

It can take an average of 91 days for people on a housing plan to be placed, homeless program director Michelle Evans told the council-led oversight committee on December 9. Of the 160 people interviewed for services, 31 are in flat accommodation, but only three were in secure accommodation.

“The city was not and is not ready to find suitable housing for displaced people or families,” Studley said at the city council meeting on Tuesday. “It’s getting worse. Most of today’s displaced people will just move through lands controlled by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Sadly, Michelle Evans has also pressured ODOT to clear this land. ground.

“It is clear to me that the town of Norman has no intention of finding accommodation for these people. The plan appears to be that they will be evicted, most likely in the coldest part of the winter, and forced to stream into the city proper to seek out services that do not exist.

Studley also questioned why the eviction from a camp that had housed people for at least five years had to be overturned as the cold weather set in with a few days until Christmas.

No place to go

Vollmer said she became homeless after being evicted from an apartment she could not afford at a cost of $ 575 per month. With an eviction on her record, finding a place to live has not been easy, she said.

The 60-year-old divorcee also has two emotional support dogs, which a doctor has authorized as part of her care.

Vollmer also pointed out several bottles of medicine to treat her lung cancer and diabetes that she keeps in a car she can’t afford.

“It’s $ 400 a month,” she said. “I get $ 633 from social security. “

Vollmer moved to Norman after she couldn’t find a place to live in Midwest City, her hometown. After failing to hand over a document to stay in a Norman public housing program, she was removed from the program, she said.

Mark Pipkin, who said to be a Norman veteran, has been homeless for several years and has been trying to find a place to live for four months. He works with a case manager.

“I’m tired of freezing here every night,” he said. “I want a job. I want a car. i want to get the [expletive] outside of here. I want to do a little something for my grandchildren.

His camp is bordered by a makeshift fence, with raked leaves and pruned tree branches, where he keeps guard against other homeless people who he says rob him.

“They steal from stores and anyone else. They have been taking drugs, some for 15 years… and they don’t want any help, ”he said.

Pipkin said he worked “every day of the year” between 2011 and 2013, but did not explain what led to his job loss. He was a trained seismic wire welder and was a foreman at one time, he recalls.

Vollmer has been waiting for weeks for news from two people who have pledged to help him find housing – one from Homeless Alliance in Oklahoma City and one from Community Care Partners in Cleveland County.

Homebase found that Norman needed affordable housing as he competed with university tenants and suggested single occupancy – small single-person housing units as a long-term solution. Homebase conducted a survey of the county’s homeless population and services to help the city formulate a strategic plan to house homeless people.

Food & Shelter Inc. chief executive April Heiple said on Wednesday there was nowhere for the homeless to go. The non-profit organization responds to the needs of food and housing insecure people and provides temporary accommodation and case management.

“To be clear, it’s not that we don’t engage people on the streets, and especially those in the river,” Heiple said. “It is because we can only offer them the available resources and currently there are no housing solutions for them.”

Studley expressed concerns from downtown business owners about the growing presence of homeless people in downtown Norman, which could increase with the eviction from the camp.

And after?

In her comments on Tuesday, as Studley criticized the city’s homelessness program, she praised the work of an agency that has little to do with the issue in trying to highlight Norman’s shortcomings.

“The displaced people are in desperate need of real case management,” she said.

Studley referred to a person who had just been released from prison and an ODOT employee referred the person to “a program with B&H Construction for people like him” and provided a lead on housing in addition to work. , “Life Skills Courses and a Bank Account.”

“In a few hours, this man had received better case management from ODOT who was there for his [encampment] eviction that the city never provided him with, ”Studley said. “We have let these people down as a city and a community. We all have some responsibility. “

A statement from Vrska said the city continued to work with partners to resolve the housing shortage and coordinate the response to the homeless.

“The Town of Norman recognizes the challenges of affordable housing and shelter capacity, which are frequently recognized in public forums and posted on the Town of Norman’s website, Planning / CDBG / Emergency Shelter,” says the communicated. “As documented on the city’s website, the shelter has not reached capacity since it opened.”

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